When the bus came into the city of Rosario I knew immediately I was in for a change of pace and scenery. The first thing I saw were boney horses tied up on the side of the road eating garbage and groups of “homes” put together with shrap metal and plywood.
About a month ago I had a friend of a friend from Chicago contact me and said he was going to be in Rosario for a few weeks visiting his home town. It was such an amazing gesture for him and his family to open their home to me so I jumped on the opportunity.
Despite my bus being an hour and a half late from Retiro, pouring rain and bumper-bumper traffic on the way to Rosario somehow I knew everything would work out fine on this blind adventure. Even when the bus driver came upstairs to find me and tell me he wasn’t going to stop at the stop I wanted a girl behind said she would help me get to my buddy’s place. Without having to ask her she guided me from the bus station to a local bus stop and she paid for me to take a 25-minute bus ride across town. She told me all about Rosario and different things on the street as we passed them by. Finally she warned me to be careful and I nervously got off the bus as she continued on.
I’m not going to lie I was a little nervous at first. The neighborhood where I got off was like nothing you would walk through in the states. The buildings were run down, pieced together roofs and walls covered with graffiti. To add to it, the girl from the bus kept telling me quidate and ojo (be careful) with my bag and I was only walking 1 block. This definitely gave me a different look into Argentina from what I’ve seen in Buenos Aires.
After about 5 minutes of timidly walking down the street all my fears went away as I saw this big burly guy with a cut-off Chicago Cubs t-shirt approach. Brian “Speedo” Benetiz was my buddy’s friend who I’d be staying with. Speedo’s stature was as big as his generosity and personality. I couldn’t have asked for a better host and after just 3 days I felt like I’ve known the guy my whole life and felt at home in his “hood”.
I stayed in the humble home of Speedo’s Grandmother. It was no doubt a taste of real South America. The roof was pieced together with ply wood, tin sheets and tires. The house was separated from the neighbors by a chain fence. And cockroaches ducked in and out of the bedroom at night.
Despite lacking some of the comforts of home, it had all the things that made up any Grandmother’s house. A warm welcoming feeling when you walked in, quirky smells and gadgets and an amazing scene in the kitchen as Grandma prepared unnecessary amounts of amazing food. We ate lunch every day with Grandma. Pasta, milonesa, bife (steak), mashed potatoes, postres (desserts) and of course dulce de leche everywhere!
It was like two different worlds in one city without a whole lot in between. As we drove to La Florida to watch the kite surfers and sun bathers we passed the very wealthy area of town. Houses that were like any you would find driving through Laguna Beach, California.
And then there was the other side. The poorest areas I have ever scene first hand in my life. I couldn’t get the image of these bone-thin horses walking down these dirt streets pulling entire families and their things through shanties (villas) not fit for a chicken coop. I didn’t take any pictures from these areas just out of respect and because I was in such disbelief.
We hit most of the major attractions in Rosario over a 3-day span including some of Speedo’s old stomping grounds. We ventured down to the Monument de la Bandera (Flag Manument) and to the flooded beaches of La Florida. We walked along the river and crawled out of the casino. I got to check out the Club where most of the kids/families from his neighborhood would go to play futbol, volleyball and picnic.
On Monday night we drank Japanese beer at an Irish bar… go figure. On Tuesday night we had an amazing traditional Parrilla at the restaurant of a family friend which included steak, chicken, chorizo, morcilla and chinchulines. As if we weren’t full enough we finished it off with some homemade flan, whip cream and dulce de leche. Goodnight. Because I was there Monday through Wednesday I didn’t tear up the night clubs and get to see the famous Rosario beauties at night. I was more than okay with that. My neck was already sore from just trying to keep up with all of them walking down the street during the day. todo tranquilo.
THE SCAM aka “ALTERNATIVE SITE SEEING”
Speedo and I went down to Monument de la Bandera and were hoping to take a tour in which you can get a great view overlooking the city. We were bummed to find out that they were closed on the day we were there.
However, as we were leaving the monument and walking towards the river to look around from ground level… we saw a sign… “showroom”! There was a brand new massive condo called Aqualina being built a block away, right on the water. Much higher than the the Monument de la Bandera tower.
We thought the “showroom” could mean open house so, we went over and tried to get security to let us up to the top to look around. That plan failed. So we came up with a better strategy. There was the number of the building managers on the sign so we gave that a ring.
Speedo (in Spanish): “Hello, we are looking to view a few of your apartments. I am here with my friend who is a professional baseball player (me) for the Chicago White Sox in the United States and he was thinking about moving to Rosario in the off season.”
Building Manager: “That is amazing how about tomorrow at 3pm?”
Speedo: “We are looking forward to it.”
Long story short… the next day at 3pm we got a full tour of the most upscale condo complex in Rosario and got to see the entire city. Much better than if we had gone up in the monument with the tour! Turns out Lionel Messi also has a place just a few floors below where we were looking worth 1.2 million. It was an amazing view and I pretended to be marginally impressed with the full floor penthouse views, infinity pools and roof-top Jacuzzi.
How did you take all the pictures you ask? Well duh, my girlfriend back in the states wants to make sure there is enough closet space for her stuff of course.
Rosario, the home town of Lionel Messi, Antonio Berni and Che Guevara. Where futbol rivals Newell’s Old Boys and Rosario Central battle it out. But for me, most importantly, it’s home to a great family that welcomed me into their home and made me feel like a real townie for a few days.
Without this opportunity I don’t think I would have been able to see this side of Rosario. There is so much here and such a diverse group of people from the very rich to the very poor. I was fortunate enough to see all ends of the spectrum from the multimillion dollar condo tour to Grandma’s house to the slums we drove through (and that are forever photographed in my mind).
I ended the trip by missing my first bus back to Rosario because we were sitting in the bus terminal drinking some beers and not paying attention. $8 pesos more bought me a full bed ride home 20 minutes later.
Thank you for everything Speedo & Grandma!